Born in 1948 in Washington DC and raised by his grandmother in Durham, North Carolina – the Jim Crow South – Talley’s ascent into fashion’s highest halls was as meteoric as it was surprising. Talley often referred to his life as a “fairytale”, stating in his bestselling 2020 memoir The Chiffon Trenches: “for so long I was the only person of color in the upper echelons of fashion journalism, but I was too busy pushing forward making it to the next day to really think about the responsibilities that came with the role”.
A regular at Studio 54 and friend to stars including Naomi Campbell, Cher, and Diana Ross, Talley first assisted legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland before going to work with Andy Warhol at Interview magazine in 1975. Shortly after, he relocated to Paris as bureau chief of Women’s Wear Daily, after which – following a brief period as a freelance journalist – he joined Vogue first under Grace Mirabella and then Anna Wintour, where he quickly rose to the top of that magazine’s masthead.
Leon Talley had bylines in Vanity Fair and House & Garden, he wrote several books including Little Black Dress, Oscar de la Renta: His Legendary World of Style, and his own gossip-drenched memoirs A.L.T. and The Chiffon Trenches. Talley was the star of his own documentary The Gospel According to André, he was a judge on America’s Next Top Model between 2010 and 2011, and he was editor-at-large of Vogue until 2013, after which he became editor of Numéro Russia.
“No one told a story like André Leon Talley. His inflection, his intonation, his hand gestures: he could spin a fairytale out of a ruffle or a sleeve,” says journalist Derek Blasberg. “He breathed fashion. He broke barriers in our industry. He was original, funny, biting, ornate, and utterly fabulous.”